Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Former Darwin Star editor,Neil Dibbs, sans beard,(right) is seen on a successful Pine Creek bottle digging expedition, with a scruffy, bearded individual who would have been quickly shown the door if he applied for a job as the janitor or frog tickler/ exterminator at the paper .
Additional intriguing information and documents have surfaced following previous posts in this ongoing series about Darwin’s newspaper wars which saw two media moguls slug it out .

First, it has been suggested that Darwin’s independent newspaper, The Star, locked in a battle for survival against the Northern Territory News in the early 1980s , may have survived had it held on for just one more month . Information has been received from a reliable source indicating that the Murdoch camp was increasingly concerned about the cost of the campaign to wipe out the newspaper which had been bought by South Australian transport and media millionaire , Allan Scott.

A sum of up to $180,000 , we are told, was set aside to achieve that goal , which involved setting up a free,home delivered weekly, The Darwin Sun, and slashing News advertising rates by half on six month contracts. The low rates not only hit The Star, they reduced the News revenue . The Star reverted to a biweekly , having become a triweekly ,with the announced intention to become a daily, a direct challenge to the NT News .

As a result of the war , we are further advised, it got to a stage where the News felt the cost was becoming too much. It was not known how deep were the pockets of Scott and his determination to keep the paper going. A moratorium or a truce were considered at the News in which both camps co-existed . The Star, however, was eventually sucked into an economic black hole, along with the Red Dwarf.

The second piece of information which surfaced relates to Scott and his dislike of people who wore beards. When the airconditioning broke down at The Star, a bearded technician , who knew Kerry and Sandra Byrnes, founders of the paper, was called in . He had the airconditioning plant in pieces when Scott drove up and asked him what he was doing. When he explained, Scott said it would be better for him to carry out the work in the Ascott truck depot .

Having said that, he arranged for a truck and a forklift to come and pick up the pieces and take them to the depot. While the refrigeration mechanic was working on the plant at the new location, a truck drove up and a clean shaven driver alighted , walked over. ‘What are you doing ?” he asked the bearded one .

When he explained that he was fixing up the air conditioning equipment, the inquirer further asked,"For Scott?" When he replied in the affirmative, the man responded by saying that it was an interesting situation.”Why?” the puzzled electrician asked, and was told that Scott did not employ men with beards.

The very next day, the electrician, now a Tennant Creek resident, was told his services were no longer required, firmly convinced he got the chop because of his facial fungus . Other sources have confirmed that Scott did not employ bearded drivers.

It is part of Sydney newspaper folklore that media tycoon Sir Frank Packer sacked a telegram delivery boy , paying him off on the spot , for riding up and down in the Daily Telegraph lift, believing he was one of the staff .

A similar event
is said to have taken place here in Darwin when Scott noticed a man walking around outside his Berrimah truck depot building . A Telecom / Telstra employee , he was supposedly just walking around trying to work out where to carry out some work. Scott bounced out of the office and demanded to know what he was doing walking about and how long he had been working there. When the fellow said he had only been there one day , Scott sacked him on the spot and told him to see the accountant and get paid off. It is probably apocryphal, but it is claimed the man also got a week’s severance pay.

Scott kept an eagle eye on the cash flow in all of his ventures
. The Australian Journalists’ Association advised that Scott was known to say sack a photographer or reporter when the balance sheet headed south. He also issued firm instructions to the Boarder Watch staff regarding his support for politicians and lines to take in editorial content. These instructions and staff resignations became the subject of public knowledge .

When one of Scott’s trucks turned over in Mt Gambier, his hometown, and blocked a main road, the editor of the paper was instructed not to mention the accident in the paper. A patron of Port Power, Scott said the coach , Mark Williams, should be sacked when the side had a bad run , but it came good and won the premiership. Williams gave Scott a gentle rhubarb at the victory celebrations.

NEXT EDITION : Almost in the category of a Dead Sea Scroll, the yellowing typescript of a 30 year old article by that anonymous, annoying political Star writer , Pandanus, about a judge who reduced his Darwin audience to tears- with laughter.

Sunday, December 26, 2010


Views of the massive Messina earthquake

Earthquakes have been on our mind of late due to a Christmas card from friends in New Zealand, the Darwin tremor and another essay by the late Professor Walter Murdoch (See our post ASSANGE AND THE MURDOCHS) dealing with a quake that destroyed an Italian city . The Kiwis live in Christchurch, once regarded as an earthquake free zone, and have had more than 3500 shakes since the city was struck by a seismic blow four months ago , smashing a large part of the CBD . Their house had sustained $10,000 damage . Then on Boxing Day we heard another quake had hit Christchurch, so sent them an email to which they promptly replied-

Hi there you two:
Great to hear from you and for your concern. Just when we thought everything had settled down off it all went again .The first one at 2.30am followed quickly by another two, the first being so scary, many more from then on and a 4.9 at 10.30am really put the wind up us. All told in the last 24hrs we have had 29 after shocks. It's been quiet for 2hrs now which puts you on tenterhooks waiting for the next one.Even the small ones seem big as they are right in the city area and shallow. Parts of the city are now cordoned off as big glass windows succumbed. This time people were caught in lifts ,fire brigade very busy with alarms going off everywhere. Yes we are O.K. One thing fell and smashed plus a bookcase beside Graham missed him luckily. Mind you we have most things packed away. Two doors upstairs can't be closed. Same happened after first aftershocks but went back to normal a few weeks ago, quakes must have moved in a different direction but now they are stuck again. Have heard of several homes with quite extensive damage this time round.

Hope you have had a lovely Christmas and happy New Year to you too.

In Darwin
we felt the recent mild tremors from the quake in the Banda Sea ,some 600 kms north of here.Reading Professor Murdoch’s book of essays, Steadfast, we were interested in his comments about the Messina,Italy, earthquake of December 28 1908, which claimed 75,000 lives outright ,delayed deaths through injuries raising this figure to as high as 100,000. He was in Naples at the time of the quake, and said the newspapers clearly stated that Messina and Reggio had been completely destroyed.

Twenty years later he visited Messina , the setting for Shakespeare’s comedy, Much Ado About Nothing, which he described as a city dominated by a cemetery in which many gravestones carried the words , morto nel terremoto, died in the earthquake . Parts of the city, he wrote , were a mixture of the new, very little of the past, with streets of corrugated cottages which reminded him of West Australian goldfield towns.

It just so happens that Little Darwin probably has one of the largest collection of Messina earthquake postcards in Australia, being long interested in seismology and volcanology. Some were posted the year after the earthquake

Saturday, December 25, 2010


Northern Territory firefighters turn on a well received Darwin Christmas Party for pensioners each year which is attended by hundreds and recently got a big write up with a picture in the NT News . This Christmas, however, the firefighters themselves missed out on a visit from Santa because management went against the Christmas tradition of providing the three stations with a ham each . Word is that the decision was based on " financial considerations". If the fire and rescue service cannot manage the cost of three hams , then it must be running on the smell of an oil rag or a burning tyre. Journalists might like to ask soon to depart for South Australia NT Fire Chief , Greg Nettleton, who and what was behind this Scrooge act. His new post will be that of Chief of the Country Fire Service. There are lots of Lutherans in country SA who take the observation of Xmas very seriously , and anyone tampering with that holy event would soon find himself the subject of angry sermons from pulpits throughout the hog belt.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


From Little Darwin's kitbag of oddities comes this menu for a 1940 Christmas Party held in the salubrious cafe-restaurant , ZUCKER , Tel Aviv, Palestine. The grouse tucker included stuffed bowels, snags, brains, chopped herring, "goos"-presumably with a beak , boiled meat, black gruel .We are not sure if Pearl Barley jumped out of a cake to entertain the troops or if it was a vegetable dish . A tempting dessert was eggs with smoked meat . Mussrooms sounded unusual as did Lunge in Sos (Lung). It is interesting to note the military censor passed the menu as safe to be sent home to Australia without worrying about the Desert Fox ,Field Marshall Rommel , learning what choice viands kept our brave fighting men marching on , no matter what .

Monday, December 20, 2010



In movies and novels about newspapers , it is common to hear the cry , STOP THE PRESS ! - indicating a major breaking story which requires a change to the front page. In our exclusive series - REWIND THE PRESS ! - we recall the Northern Territory’s colourful media past, in this case the unusual publication which played a most important part at a devastating period in Darwin's history.


VVVictorian Pete Steedman , a seasoned and scarred ALP warrior, has been in the eye of countless political storms. It was an epic tempest, Australia’s worst natural disaster, Cyclone Tracy, which saw him called in to utilise his skills as a forceful journalist/editor, publisher and communicator in the production of the Darwin Newsletter .

The publication kept tens of thousands of evacuees down south informed about what was happening in the battered Territory capital and where they could go for help and services to try and sort out their lives which had been turned upside down. It became “ the Bible” for Darwin Resident Action Committees across the nation ,with a circulation of 20,000.

Edition number 1 was printed in Melbourne at the Salvation Army’s Citadel Press with money Steedman raised through various sources. It was illustrated with photographs supplied by The Age and included a statement in the Greek language. As the enormity of the problem became more apparent , Steedman was employed as a welfare officer by the Victorian Council for Social Service which had been studying and planning the organisational structures needed to cope with any disaster. Another journalist , John Ball, also a political activist, worked in tandem with Steedman on the Newsletter.

A Darwin Assistance Centre was set up on the fifth floor of the Australian Government Building in the Mebourne CBD , which an Age report said at times was like a noisy newspaper , with redtape between departments cut to a minimum as a thousand deadlines had to be met.

Subsequent editions of the Newsletter , printed at Stockland Press, where Steedman had previously been the publishing manager, were jam-packed with helpful information and articles which reflected his dynamic approach and the distinctive writing style of the two media men . The paper took a stand against bureaucratic inaction, unreasonable treatment of people, both down south and in Darwin.

For example, in an article dealing with the delays in handing out the millions donated to help the victims of Cyclone Tracy, administered by the Darwin Relief Trust Fund , held by four different voluntary organisations , it called for “ a quick decision by someone up top “ to allocate the “paltry” $200 per person. It was harder to find anyone who had received any of the money than to find a house that had not been blown away, chided the Newsletter .

It also was not reluctant to raise the issue of profiteering by some Darwin businesses, escalating house prices , problems with insurance companies. Ball was sent to Darwin to gather first hand information on the spot for the newspaper and was joined by Steedman . Ball had lived in Hong Kong and there were articles, illustrated with a picture of ships swept ashore in tidal surges , about how the British colony coped with regular hurricanes and information about its building code, The byline on one article billed John Ball as "our cyclone-proof obsessed reporter".

(In Hugh Lunn's book Spies Like Us , the Brisbane journalist described his first meeting with John Ball ,a long thin scar on his left cheek,in the Firecracker Bar in Hong Kong."Not another bloody Aussie," Ball remarked on hearing Lunn was a new journalist in the British colony, awash in Australian newsmen . Australia's famous journalist, Steve Dunleavy ,was working as a bouncer in the bar and also produced a publication called American Tourist) .

In Darwin Steedman and Ball worked closely with the executive director of the NT Council of Social Services ,Max Dumais, civic and government leaders.

A March 1975 edition told how few people in Darwin had known anything about video tapes until Cyclone Tracy. Now videos were flowing to and from Darwin keeping people in touch . Film Australia taught a Darwin team which included a housewife, a teacher and an air traffic controller how to take over the video service . In the first month of operation 260 taped messages were sent south.

Steedman addressed a national conference in Adelaide in April 1975 at which two representatives from all states and territories gathered to discuss the role of Darwin resident groups outside of Darwin and drew up an extensive agenda for future activities in Darwin. One of those was for a community newspaper in Darwin supported by the Darwin Reconstruction Commission. The role and requirements of such a paper were explained in great detail .

The idiosyncratic writing style of the two journalists was evident when Little Darwin recently perused Steedman’s own copies of the Newsletter, mementos of those hectic days. As an example, the May 1975 edition of the paper said Ball had lobbed in Darwin to collect stories , including some from the teams of scribes still resident in the battered city. It included a lively account of life aboard the former Greek Chandris Line cruise ship, Patris, costing the Australian government $15,100 a day, where up to 800 people paid $35 a week for full board. The Newsletter pointed out the ship’s swimming pool was not filled with water and that mothers were worried that children might fall through the railings and plunge 40 feet into the harbour .

Stories about the Patris becoming a Peyton Place may or may not be true , the article continued. From this very paragraph alone it can be seen that the Darwin Newsletter was no bland government publication.

Nightcliff politician Dawn Lawrie featured in another story and firmly stated that former residents should be allowed return to the city , despite the claim that they would strain resources. Tourists , she pointed out, were being allowed to come to Darwin and they had to eat . If the buses bringing them in were not fully equipped they would be straining the food supplies. She was quoted as saying : “Bugger the tourists .They are part of Darwin’s bread and butter , but our first concern should be for Darwin people kept down south.” She went on to say that she was more than a bit browned off by tourists. “At one stage there was a private helicopter flying over to gawk at the city. When one swooped over my house, I couldn’t restrain myself and gave them a very rude sign.”

Mayor Ella Stack told the Newsletter she would like to provide facilities for hippies who passed through Darwin on the route to and from Asia to overcome the smelly Lameroo Beach situation and that drug dealers would get short shrift. A local artist, Eddie Collins, provided cartoons.

Through his involvement with the Chinese community in Bendigo and Melbourne , John Ball arranged for a cutting of the ancient Bodhi tree in Thailand under which Buddha is said to have received enlightenment thousands of years ago to be sent to Darwin for the Chinese Temple rebuilding program. A Chinese message was also included in the paper. Former NT News journalist, Bluey Harley,evacuated as a result of Cyclone Tracy , supplied a lighthearted column of anecdotes and there were several items from the NT News.

The June 2 edition
, the last , contained extensive information about the Darwin Reconstruction Fair, including an interview with Melbourne artist and conservationist, Neil Douglas, photographed with local journalist /author and environmentalist, the late Barbara James , he having interesting views about how the city could be rebuilt, the Hong Kong approach mentioned .

Ball and Steedman were involved in a variety of projects which resulted in them dealing with Sandra and Kerry Byrnes at the Graphic Systems printery, who later became proprietors of the independent newspaper, the Darwin Star (see our series The Darwin Star Media Wars ). Steedman compiled an extensive report of some 300 pages ,with about l600 pages of appendices , on how to cope with a natural disaster anywhere in Australia. This , he said, had been chopped down, censored, re-written ,turned about and came out as something he did not quite recognise .

Ball later played a key part in a community newspaper , The New Darwin, about which Little Darwin is building a file that will result in another feature in this series. As part of the Back to Darwin event, Steedman was one of many journalists who returned to see how the city had progressed a year after Cyclone Tracy. An urgent matter forced him to reluctantly cut short his stay in Darwin on that occasion.


Here is proof positive that today's highly paid cricketers are a pack of wusses. Ponting breaks a finger and drops out . A Pommie bowler tears a muscle and limps off the field. In 1943 these cricketers( above ) had broken necks and were bashing away at the pill- no protective box, pads, helmet, sunnies, sun block ,chewing gum. The wicket keeper bounced about like an indian rubber ball despite his serious injuries . It is an illustration from a WW11 book about advances in treating fractures and broken bones in Servicemen . Another photo shows plaster encased players crowding a soccer goal ,eager to head the ball , which would be really painful.


Gene Janes has a place in the pulp fiction history of Australia with his books in collections from the 1950s and 1960s in the Australian National Library, the Victorian Library and several universities here and NZ.

Acclaimed novelist, Ruth Park, who died in Sydney recently, aged 93 ,was a fan of the Darwin journalist /author Gene Janes. In 1975 she supported an application by Janes for a Literature Board grant to write a book about Cyclone Tracy . Park wrote that she had known his fiction and fact pieces for 15 years and had admired his firm, craftsmanlike grasp of style and form .

Janes, she added, was a classic example of a fine writer sidetracked by personal responsibilities into too much journalism. He had a terse originality and an intuitive feeling for Australian character.

The Calvert Publishing Company ,Sydney, said Janes had been one of its most popular authors who wrote commissioned stories with army, navy and airforce settings. He had also written a detective series and a number of romance and mystery stories , his books translated into several languages.
One of his works- about the Z Force Commandoes - was made into a film.

A Britisher , who had worked at the BBC as a boy, he had dealings there with the spy ,Guy Burgess, who defected to Russia .

Janes was attracted to Darwin by the NT News editor, Jim Bowditch. While at the News he wrote an illustrated serial about Australia being run by an Aboriginal government.

The disappearance of his packet of prawns from the fridge at the News resulted in him being sacked after he had a row with the then editor and chased him down the room , an episode which got a mention in the independent Darwin Star .

Bowditch and Janes worked together on a proposed biography of millionaire Mick Paspalis , never written, which became a contentious matter in which Sir Norman Young ,chairman of News Adelaide, was involved.

It is understood Janes and Bowditch received $1000 each for the work they had put into the book, Gene buying his first ever lawn mower. His widow lives in Darwin .

Saturday, December 18, 2010


In yet another corny utterance , Health Minister , Kon Vatskalis, has been quoted in Bushranger as saying he has olives in his cyclone kit and that a Mediterranean diet is supposed to be best in the world. Well, head health honcho, we have it on good advice that while the tucker sold at Darwin’s annual Greek Glenti Festival is tasty, a lot of it ( “most”) is cooked in the worst possible oil from the point of view of generating bad cholesterol. He might like to do something positive about this.


When the Chief Minister announces he intends jumping about in the mosh pit at the annual bash in the bush Christmas show at the Botanical Gardens,we believe it is time for a return to the innocent Xmas pantomimes of a century ago. In this Jack and Jill Waltz illustration there is the old woman who had so many children she lived in a shoe-obviously a reference to the Darwin housing shortage . It is not only Jill who is exposing her bloomers,there have been more bloomers in the Legislative Assembly debates than the amount of women's and children's underwear in the constant 30 percent off sale at Target. And is that water or oil that clumsy Jack is spilling ?As an indication of the once great popularity of pantomimes , Little Darwin has a folder of sheet music covers from pantos in which it is stated that catchy tunes from The House That Jack Built pantomime, including A-N-Z-A-C, sung, whistled and played throughout the length and breadth of the nation, had been sweeping the country like a cyclone .

Friday, December 17, 2010


Offered for sale on the Coolalinga public notice board outside Woolworths are ducks, including Carkee Cambles. Think they mean Khaki Campbells because a maternal grandfather of mine once had a garage full of them in Sydney ,intending to make a killing at Xmas. They made a hell of mess , and some escaped each time the door was opened .

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Wikileaks founder Julian Assange likened himself to reporter Sir Keith Murdoch, father of Rupert Murdoch, whose exposure of the true state of the Gallipoli bloodbath influenced the withdrawal . Rupert Murdoch , it was recently pointed out in a radio discussion about Assange’s incarceration , had exposed much of what had been hidden from the public in Britain and was reviled as the Dirty Digger as a result.

During an interstate trip , Little Darwin recently bought Steadfast A Commentary , a collection of essays by another member of the Murdoch clan , Professor Walter Murdoch , of Western Australia , written during WW11 and syndicated through the Melbourne Herald , run by a nephew, Sir Keith Murdoch. Professor Murdoch, one of 14 children, was renowned for supporting so called lost causes, debunking the pompous , the ultra conservatives and strongly opposed the Menzies government’s attempt to abolish the Australian Communist Party.

Sentiments expressed in these essays are relevant to modern times , especially the debate over Wikileaks, democracy and a hot Australian political issue, refugees. In discussing the competing propaganda wars being conducted by the Germans and the Allies in America , which was isolationist at the time, Professor Murdoch defended democracy, with its faults, in which there was a right and expectation to be told the truth. He also made the point that there was good and bad propaganda .

After discussing the horrors of Dachau , the smashing of Poland and the invasion of Czechoslovakia , the professor , who said he was growing old, ended the book with a pledge he would like Australians, especially the young, to adopt for a nation which would become an example to the rest of the world. These ideals included the welfare of women and children, availability of work , fairer distribution of wealth , justice,and working for the removal of war.

One pleadge paragraph reads : We promise that to the utmost of our powers we shall make Australia a home for the homeless , a refuge for the innocent victims of cruelty and injustice elsewhere. We promise that Australia shall win a fair fame in the world for hospitality to exiles from foreign lands who are willing to obey our laws and to live and work honestly in our midst. To such exiles we shall extend the same justice ,the same generosity and the same friendly treatment as to men and women of our own race .

The rousing call to the nation ended with an urge for each person to examine their mind “to see what lurks there of the old greeds and spites, the old selfishness that has deformed society and frustrated the hopes of the world.” Professor Murdoch said every one of the essays,run throughout the nation and NZ, attracted letters of "more or less violent disagreement ".

Here in Darwin, it is little known that Rupert Murdoch allowed the crusading editor of the NT News ,the late Jim Bowditch, to draw on the office kitty in the form of a loan to pay legal bills and other expenses in the case of two celebrated Darwin news events , the Stayput Malays and the Stayput Portuguese , which challenged Australia’s immigration laws , the White Australia Policy, the Portuguese dictator, Dr Salazar, and the Menzies government.

In a leaflet which circulated after the Federal government buckled in both cases, the North Australian Workers’ Union secretary, Paddy Carroll, was quoted as saying that Bowditch had led the Australian battles and arranged for a loan of 800 pound ( $1600) , without interest, with the approval of Murdoch. In addition, Bowditch had personally spent 600 pound ($1200 ) which he had written off as a good cause and experience . The loan, however, had to be paid back , and Carroll made an appeal for a voluntary levy of ten shillings each to take the financial burden from Bowditch .
> Steadfast published by Oxford University Press , Melbourne, 1941

Sunday, December 12, 2010


Apart from Wikileaks founder Julian Assange having once lived on Queensland’s Magnetic Island with his mother , a woman who challenged conventional thinking on many fronts spent time on the same rocky outcrop named by Captain Cook . She was New Zealand writer , (Jane) Jean Devanny , a Communist , whose first novel ,The Butcher Shop (1926), which condemned sexual oppression in marriage , was banned in NZ, Australia, Boston and Hitler's Germany .

Little Darwin has a copy of the book with an inscription from her son- in- law . It is the 1981 edition edited and introduced by Heather Roberts, printed at the University of Auckland , with extensive margin marking of the text in pencil . It contains notes on the banning of The Butcher Shop by Bill Pearson.The cover design is based on the first edition, owned by the original publisher, Gerald Duckworth and Company ,and the Alexander Turnbull Library.

One of 10 children, she left school at 13 and at 17 met and married militant coalminer ,Francis Harold Devanny, they having a son and two daughters. They moved to Australia in 1929 hoping to improve the health of a son, but he died.

Active in the labour movement and the literary world , she helped found the Writers League with Katharine Susannah Prichard and Czech journalist Jewish Communist , Egon Kisch, who jumped from a ship in Melbourne rather than be deported when the Australian government tried to stop him from attending the 1934 Movement Against War and Fascism . Stern magazine in 1977 founded the Egon Kisch prize for journalism .

She joined the Australian Communist Party and was appointed national secretary of the Workers’ International Relief and in 1931 attended its Berlin conference. At Sydney's open air debating arena , the Domain , she spoke out about war and fascism and supported socialism and the International Brigade in Spain . Often she called on women to oppose the war for the sake of children everywhere. Expelled from the party in 1940, she rejoined in 1944 and left again in 1949.

Devanny published 20 books and many short stories and articles in Australia and overseas. The Australian Dictionary of Biography states that Devanny treated the novel as an instrument for propaganda , written often in a “fiery agitational style”.

In the years 1950 and 1951 she and her husband, known as Hal, employed at the Alligator Creek meatworks in Townsville , rented accommodation at Alma Bay, Magnetic Island , during which time she worked on a novel, The Island, which was never published. While on the island she spent a lot of time with Clarrie Scrivener, a dreamer , who spouted poetry and lived in a small inlet ,White Lady Cove,named after a rock formation resembling a woman nursing a child. He leased the cove and was building a house there , wandering about with a dog called Splinter. While she had a lot of respect for Scrivener , an island resident, involved in oyster farming both on nearby Great Palm Island and in Darwin , told Little Darwin he had been annoyed by Scrivener, even suggesting he may have been responsible for the introduction of cane toads on the island.

With Hal’s health poor, they considered moving back to Melbourne , but Jean bought a house in the Townsville suburb of West End. The last child , an activist like her mother , died in a swimming pool.

Jean Devanny died of leukemia in 1962 and railway workers stood in quiet tribute at Townsville railway station as a train left for Rockhampton with her body to be cremated.

Her personal papers are in Townsville’s James Cook University library and include many letters from Australian literary figures- Dame Mary Gilmore (handwritten ), Vance and Nettie Palmer, Frank Hardy, Ruth Park, Beatrice Davis , Eleanor Dark, Miles Franklin . One letter dated April 7, 1948 is from Lorna Moss, Honorary Secretary of the Alice Springs Kindergarten.

There is even a letter from the very colourful NZ Minister for Mines, Paddy Webb, the Australian born first president of the NZ Federation of Labour who served on the executive of the NZ Labour Party, an opponent of conscription in WW1,resulting in him spending two years in jail followed by a loss of 10 years’ civil rights. John A.Lee, a former Kiwi politician who had lost an arm in WW1 and had a bookshop in Auckland , mentioned Webb , a joker, in Rhetoric At The Red Dawn, pen portraits of leading figures in NZ politics between the two wars.

An obituary in the JCU collection is headed Jean Devanny –she fought as she wrote .

Saturday, December 11, 2010


While the world's media scrambles for any background information about Julian Assange, it has been suggested that a statue should be erected to him on Magnetic Island , off Townsville . This is contained in the latest post on the online newspaper , Magnetic Times , which in August reported that Julian's mother had lived on the island in the 1970s with her young son, extracts of which were run in Little Darwin under the heading WIKILEAK FAMILY ISLAND SECRETS .

Editor George Hirst reports that he has received numerous telephone calls from the media, including the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Japanese media, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian and Channel 9 .

His latest article includes a claim by the island's marriage celebrant ,David " Crusty" Herron, with few exact details, that he met Assange on several occasions and gained the impression that he wanted to overcome differences in society like the Labor Party used to do. The full report with comments can be viewed on

Friday, December 10, 2010


Little Darwin's ongoing gonzo series -REWIND THE PRESS ! -revealing the Northern Territory's colourful media past and the many talented people who toiled in the fourth estate , braving occasional verbal and physical assault , jousting tycoons and frogs

*Inside The Star newsroom, reporter Sue Williams provides a raspberry for the photographer, Barry Ledwidge . She later worked on The Bulletin magazine, Sydney. Editor Neil Dibbs is at the back,left, with Rex Clark on the phone, right . Garry Dembon, the other reporter, recently lobbed back in Darwin on a visit from Asia .
Out of the blue, as they say in the movies, Kerry Byrnes received a message to call and see a Mr Scott in Darwin . Not realising it was the South Australian self made trucking and media mogul , Allan Scott , of Ascott Transport, he went to a depot.

There was a small advertisement in The Star for Malanda Milk, which Ascott distributed in the Territory, so Kerry thought it was in connection with that advert. An Ascott receptionist said Mr Scott was coming , and a small man in multi coloured woollen pants and a bright striped shirt appeared. They walked out of the shed and Scott leaned up against the front of a large prime mover which had a huge bullbar. Throughout their discussion, Scott tried to cock a leg on the bumper bar, but he was too short and it kept on slipping off .

Asked what he wanted to discuss, Scott surprised by saying he wanted to buy the paper. By this stage, more street- wise in dealings with millionaires, Kerry said it was not for sale. Nevertheless, Scott persisted , asked questions about the paper, and said he would bring his accountant around the following day and discuss the matter further. “I nearly fell into the nearby truck service pit,” said Byrnes.

Sure enough,Scott did materialise , and within two weeks the place was sold. For a quarter of a million , he bought the newspaper’s title, not the building. The Byrneses bought 10 percent of the shares for $29,000 and agreed to build an extension to the premises so that Scott could install a $400,000 Goss web offset press .

Based in Mount Gambier ,South Australia, where he was known as the Uncrowned King, Scott owned the town’s newspaper ,The Border Watch, as well as the television station, SES-8. His wife ran an antique shop in the town . Scott had interests in several other media organisations .

In 1980 he bought the Darwin Star and an Alice Springs paper of the same name , owned by a separate company . Obviously in a buying frenzy, he also offered to buy the Alice commercial radio station ,8HA, and build a television station there . His attempt to buy NTD-8,Darwin was repulsed. Scott expressed a desire to buy the Adelaide Advertiser, had a bundle of shares in the Bank of Adelaide , and spoke of forming a consortium with Robert Holmes a Court to buy TAA, the government airline . He made no secret of his dislike of the Ansett Airlines CEO, Sir Peter Abeles. Scott would never fly in one of Ansett planes, in which Rupert Murdoch had half share.

This then was the cashed up truckie who bought The Star. Out of the money they received , Sandra and Kerry paid off debts of more than $100,000. They were kept on to run the paper , Kerry made a director of the company, Northern Publishing and Broadcasting Pty Ltd The 1980 Christmas issue of the paper declared The Darwin Star would shine in 1981 and become a regular biweekly.

Prior to Scott taking over the paper, secondhand cars, a Gemini and two Renaults, were used by the reporters and photographers ,the only decent vehicle being a Dodge ute which needed to be reliable because it delivered newspapers. Much to their surprise , they discovered the Dodge had been used to jump start cars at drag races and promptly put an end to this. After doing a newspaper pick up run in the Dodge, Kerry was involved in a strange event one evening. A wildlife ranger , wrongly mistaking him for another man , chased the car and tried to get him to stop. Kerry , puzzled by the antics of the person, stepped on the gas and sped into the Darwin Airport and told Commonwealth Police that there was a madman chasing him . It was then revealed that his pursuer , later a politician, had been after a man he suspected had a ute load of crocodile skins. Not only did the ranger have the wrong man, the croc skins were bundles of newspapers. Kerry had contemplated pummelling the ranger into a set of travel luggage if the airport gendarmes had not been handy.

After having been used to running about in old cars, it was something of a surprise when Scott bought new Ford sedans and a van . The monthly overheads in the old days had been in the order of $ 3150 ; with mounting concern, Kerry noticed this climbed to more than $15,000 . An accountant told him not to voice his concerns as this was the corporate way. Several people subsequently experienced Scott’s largesse when he designated four people who should receive cars. Scott’s brave ambitions for the paper did not eventuate.

A free weekly newspaper, The Sun, claiming to be an independent, published by Provincial Press Pty Ltd, was produced on the News premises, first appearing in March 1981 and was a home delivered giveaway with a circulation of about 17,000.{ It was the start of a whole chain of free Sun newspapers throughout Australia in the Murdoch stable,several in Darwin, a move which made it hard for any independent publication }. News Corp’s report for that year claimed the NT News (1981 profit $492,000 ) had effectively slowed the challenger in Darwin . Yet another newspaper ,the Advertiser, in which businessman Cedric Chin was a key player also hit the streets, giving Darwin no less than four papers. Chin had worked for The Star until his services were no longer required , a foolish move as he was well connected with the Chinese community. The Advertiser was printed at the News cash in hand before the presses rolled for $800-$1000 a week.

When it was decided to produce The Star three times a week ,Sandra,who attended board meetings, firmly stated it would be a retrograde step, that the News would really retaliate and it would be better to put more effort into magazines and job printing . After that forthright statement ,she was not invited to attend a board meeting , held the following day; Kerry resigned. Reluctantly, they departed the paper which had been an unusual experience,demanding and exciting .

The paper went to full tabloid size on becoming a triweekly, said to be the first paper produced on a web offset press in Darwin . Scott was quoted as saying he planned to turn the paper into a daily . In doing so, he really threw down the gauntlet to Murdoch . Reporters were lured from various enterprises with promises of bigger pay and bright futures.

One of those was Neil Dibbs , in Sydney at the time on the Australian Associated Press . He had searched for old Roman and British coins, buckles, medals and Jack the Ripper’s scalpel along the banks of the River Thames with an early metal detector , dug up old bottles at Pine Creek when he was stationed in Darwin with AAP for two years , and was asked to come back north as assistant editor in 1980 to replace Peter Murphy .

Dibbs , who worked hard to make the paper a success ,often putting in 14 hour days , went in big on photographs. He plucked Andy Bruyn out of the Education Department and made him the sports editor. Word came through that the NT News editor, John Hogan, was furious with Dibbs and his innovations which caught the daily flatfooted. Despite all the mighty efforts on behalf of the staff, things went wrong. Adelaide accountant Glen Raphael, a close friend of the SA Premier , Don Dunstan , was sent up to run the ship in late 1981. Rob Wesley Smith’s regular column got the chop for some unknown reason

The paper reverted to a biweekly after the News applied the screws , slashing advertising rates . With falling revenue due to the savage competition , The Star lost its shine. An unusual episode took place at the paper when staff were instructed not to run any more stories about an Adelaide woman who wanted to open an escort agency in Darwin, said to be pressured by police. Six members of staff, including editor Dibbs , resigned . A smart operator, Dibbs became Marshall Perron’s press secretary.

A reporter , Alec Martin, who had been brought in as deputy editor from the NT News, moved up as editor after the departure of Dibbs , but did not last long. On February 18 , 1982, Australian Business Weekly ran a story MURDOCH SENDS A KING INTO EXILE which covered Darwin’s all-out newspaper war. The News, it said, celebrated its 30th birthday that month and before the year was out it could have the Star’s scalp hanging from its belt. And so it did . The only person left standing, it seems, was the scary green frog in the ladies loo who refused to give up his kingdom.

* Today Sandra and Kerry Byrnes run the Arnhem Nursery at Humpty Doo . Sandra is a keen potter, has her own kiln, and each year the Rural Potters’ Association holds a fair on Mother’s Day and another Christmas Fair in November at the nursery. Kerry is often heard on the ABC radio Saturday morning gardening program. He has extensive botanical and other arcane knowledge which is helpful for Territory gardeners. For instance, he was able to reassure one listener that Guineas Pig poo will not make your Basil droop. He and Sandra have well connected gardening expert friends overseas and interstate. An internationally known tropical gardening author came and stayed at the nursery and exchanged notes . Both Sandra and Kerry are still interested in the local media *

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


It is a shame that the late Arthur Wright , linotype operator at the Northern Standard and Northern Territory News,did not write a book. His knowledge about early Darwin politics , unions, newspapers and pioneer aviators was impressive. One memorable story he told me illustrated how tough it was during the Depression. It involved Sally “ The Hobo Queen ” who passed through Darwin while tramping about the nation with her husband desperately seeking work .

Three days after her Adelaide marriage in 1929 , Sally’s husband lost his job in a pottery . Sally , a Scot, in her early 20s , and husband , Bob Hallerhead, 29, who had been gassed in WW1 and had come to Australia to "clear his lungs", were forced to hit the road to look for work as the economy went into free fall. She wore a pair of her husband’s cut down trousers and they had 3/9 (39cents) in the kitty .

Their trek became something of a national travelogue with newspapers reporting the movements of the woman dubbed the Hobo Queen. One report in the Longreach Leader , Queensland, December 5,1930 ,was headed : BRIDE’S 3000 MILE TREK / ACCOMPANYING HUSBAND IN VAIN SEARCH FOR WORK/ ADELAIDE TO LONGREACH ON FOOT / SALLY THE HOBO QUEEN /PRISON CELLS THAT WERE ELYSIUM .

It told of their experiences along the track and in cities , at times being put up in police cells ,encounters with snakes, jumping the rattler , meeting other bagmen . Sally, the paper said, had cried twice, once from blistered feet and in memory of her mother when she passed a country cemetery and saw her family name on a tombstone. The couple sang songs , paraphrased the one about it being a long, long way to Tipperary and made up others.

After tramping about the nation , they lobbed in
Darwin in June 1931 , having covered 6000 miles, their arrival mentioned in southern newspapers. At the time Arthur Wright told me about the Hobo Queen , he said nobody in Darwin would probably know about her,so much of the Territory’s past being forgotten ,which is so true. For example, there is a photo of Arthur in the NT Library photo collection , but he is wrongly named.

Arthur held firm views about the distribution of wealth and social justice. Born in a tent in WA in 1910 , he came to the NT in 1920 with his father who went to work in the Pine Creek goldfield . At 14 he became an apprentice at the union owned Northern Standard newspaper . A keen athlete, he boxed , rowed , cycled and in late life went for long walks . Arthur’s wife, Pat, worked in the book binding section at the News .

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


To give Oprah and her screaming entourage an unforgettable Australian experience , our resident culture vulture has arranged for the Australian Arts Council to stage the fabulous 1934 Melbourne hit , The Cedar Tree, which starred our great prima donna, Gladys Moncrieff, for our guests .

This dazzling musical, directed by F.W. Thring, daddy of our movie star Thring , he of the long fingernails and evil leer, contained breathtaking lyrics which brilliantly captured the very essence of the Land Down Under, and still does, according to the US Embassy in Canberra, thanks to Wikileaks .

Cedar Tree tells how pioneer cedar cutters hacked their way through much of the forests in NSW . Jolly lumberjack songs were sung like WHY DOES THE WILD EMU ? with unforgettable refrains passed down to modern times such as :

What makes the native bear go native ?
Why does the praying mantis pray?
Does the wombat hit any boundaries ?
( If so , sign the bugger up for the next Test match.)
While the dingbat shouts hooray!
Has a bunyip got any bunions?
What does the kangaroo ?
And how many winners does a gum tip ?
And does a wild emu ?

Willie wagtails, wattle and dingoes are mentioned and important questions asked include what sort of sting does a wallaby have ; can the lyre bird always tell fresh ones when he gets home late; is the platypus very platitudinous; where does a goanna go and who shaves the mopoke’s mo.
A bloke who sounds like a rustic out of Dad and Dave sings about mysterious girls who are necessary for the population and slacken round the fischu (sic ) -whatever that means -probably something related to whalebone corsets . No doubt this musical will impress Oprah and her party and they will go home with the burning desire to make us another hillbilly state of the union . NOTE : A fichu is a woman's kerchief or shawl, generally triangular in shape,worn draped over the shoulders or around the neck with ends drawn together .

Monday, December 6, 2010


Little Darwin recently had the privilege of browsing through a large collection of Australian and New Zealand political tin buttons , the property of a person keen on amassing the offbeat political history of the nation . Australia,it seems ,is not yet as interested in its political memorabilia as are Americans, some of whom are keen collectors, he said . In America the buttons are called pin backs.

The collection included several of ALP PM Ben Chifley with his pipe , the slogan CHIFLEY SPELLS SECURITY and LABOR FOR SECURITY . The Big FellaJack Lang –was seen glaring from a button with the message LANG IS RIGHT . Anti war buttons included DROP HOLT ON HANOI and PUT THIS MAD DOG ( Bush ) ON A LEASH .

Bearing a Petty drawing of the PM, one says GORTON’S GOTTA GO . An October 22 , 1966 button carried the message that NSW welcomes LBJ, pictured . A rare World War 1 NZ button highlighted the disastrous DARDENELLES and said NO NZ BOYS AS CONSCRIPTS . The bulbous nosed Victorian Premier, Sir Henry “Hanging” Bolte , stood out . KERR MUST GO and EXPORT FRASER NOT KOALAS featured on one page . Naturally there were ones referring to John Howard: HOWARD’S NO QUITTER –JUST ASK COSTELLO and the outrageous MY MUM SAYS JOHN HOWARD IS A LYING, ROTTEN, MONGREL, RODENT, BASTARD . Fancy any mother saying such terrible things about the PM. HAPPINESS IS A LIBERAL GOVERNMENT was another slogan.

Greens’ leader Bob Brown was promoted as PM . GIVE A DAMN- VOTE DEMOCRAT . Other buttons were for the CANBERRA UNITY PARTY and THE NORTH WANTS A NEW STATE . Apart from the buttons , there was a wide ranging collection of political posters, how to vote cards, pamphlets , magazines and other ephemera.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


From Brisbane comes the infuriating news that the Queensland government is going to cut its support for the palliative ward at the Canossa Private Hospital,Ingham. My mother spent her dying days in this fine establishment after enduring inadequate, cruel and inhumane treatment at a public hospital. Canossa staff, facilities and treatment were excellent . Being Health Minister is a difficult job in any state or territory, and in Queensland there have been several obvious lightweight ministers with this portfolio responsibility who were a pain to hear and see in action, ditto Darwin . It would be wise for the present minister to rescind this proposal to chop Canossa . Stupid decisions like this make it hard for genuine ALP supporters to vote for the party ,knowing the other side would be and has been worse.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Returning from an overseas trip last weekend , a Darwin man had an unnerving experience getting from the airport to the city in a taxi. As the taxi pulled away from the airport, it seemed there was something wrong with the front wheels as the vehicle performed strangely, meandering about on the road.

Turning into Bagot Road, the taxi veered across two lanes . The driver was falling asleep at the wheel. So tired was he , he hunched over the steering wheel . If the passenger had not been sitting up front and been able to grab the wheel and wake the driver there could have been a tragic accident. As a result of this incident the taxi companies and the transport authorities MUST act.

If , as it seems, the driver had been doing a double weekend shift, what are the rules and regulations regarding such an action . Long distance drivers must have compulsory rest breaks . What about taxi drivers doing long weekend shifts?

While on the subject of taxis, a South Australian taxi driver told Little Darwin it would be good if Australia could produce taxis which can stand up to the wear and tear of the trade. He said the taxis he was asked to drive were in and out of workshops about every two weeks because something had broken . As he spoke, a piece of the moulding over the front door was askew. It could be that taxi drivers and the vehicles they drive are being driven into the ground. Melbourne taxi drivers held demonstrations to protest over the poor pay they received .

In Brisbane
, we are told, it is widely believed that some taxi drivers are ghost drivers , stand ins for mates, and as a result are often poor drivers with little knowledge of the city.


A Qantas flight from Darwin appeared to be making a smooth landing at Adelaide on November 22 when there was a sudden bump. The captain came on the PA, apologised and explained that the runway had recently been resealed and there was a ridge in the tarmac about which a firm complaint had been lodged. Things must be wearing a bit thin at Qantas what with all the mechanical trouble . As a Little Darwin correspondent walked behind a hostess in Darwin several long threads were seen sticking from her collar. Don’t think unsightly threads and crooked stocking seams were allowed when Ansett hosties and their distinctive pillbox hats were seen aloft. June Dally Watkins would not have approved .